A few weeks ago I had a phone call from Comic Relief asking me to support the new programme they were launching to promote young leaders. I said yes of course, though the phone call was quite vague. So, when an email arrived inviting me to the launch of the programme at Buckingham Palace (!!!) I was pretty much gobsmacked. A week or so later, when the invitation arrived in the post it suddenly became very real! When I finally got over my shock of the royal stamp and the gold lined invitation and actually read it, it said Prince Harry would be in attendance!!! If I could get any more excited, I did, although my excitement was slightly tempered upon the realisation that a surprising amount of my friends didn’t know Harrys formal name was Henry and thought it was another random member of the royal family they hadn’t met…
The event I had been invited to was the launch of the Queens Young Leaders. This is a programme where exceptional people aged 18-29 will receive awards for leading the way where they live, in honour of Her Majesty The Queen’s 60-year contribution to the Commonwealth. The 60 winners per year will have access to influential institutions and people, with Cambridge University and presidents of commonwealth countries signed up to support the young leaders. Applications are now open and you can nominate people you think are the young leaders of today (or yourself!) by going to this link http://www.queensyoungleaders.com/.
I had been invited as part of HOPE (Healing through Opportunities to Pursue Enterprise), an Enactus Sheffield project. Enactus Sheffield is a student company that aims to empower people in need in the local and international community.
HOPE is one of Enactus Sheffield’s flagship local projects. It is a project that supports survivors of human trafficking and domestic and sexual abuse through enterprise. Working across three safe houses in Sheffield, HOPE enables women to experience working in a jewellery enterprise, supporting them to make, market and sell the jewellery, gaining valuable enterprise skills. We then have various partnerships, including with the Princes’ Trust and IHG, to help the women into employment or individual enterprise.
However, we recognised that even with the skills needed, some of the women were still not able to gain employment because of a lack of formal work experience. Therefore, we set up HOPE Cosmetics which offers the women a two month, part time, paid placement in our cosmetics business, to fill this gap and help the women go on to permanent, full time employment. If you are interested, please check out HOPE’s website at www.hopesheffield.org.
Therefore, after three years of working with HOPE, myself and Ellie Morrissey (the new HOPE director) had the honour of being invited to Buckingham Palace in the capacity of established young leaders and supporters of the Queens Young Leaders programme. Ridiculously excited at the possibility of meeting Prince Harry, we were literally beyond anything that had resembled excited previously when we arrived at the briefing to find out it was BOTH the princes that were going to be there (love Prince William!!). We were also thrilled to meet Rob and Paul Forkan, the founders of Ghandys flip flops, my favourite social enterprise outside of Enactus!
When we arrived at the Palace (sweeping our way through the tourists with the faces pressed up to the fence outside – excellent!) we were led up a red carpet, past a couple of photographers, and inside the palace. We were greeted by a choir singing phenomenally in the entrance, and by an array of footmen and women. The rooms in which the launch was held was full with around 150 people, with a good proportion being young people from around the commonwealth. There was a social media hub, the first time there has been something like this in the palace, which had crazy stuff like a twitter mirror (still don’t really understand what that is) and a hashtag couch! Then the speeches began and John Major introduced the event, to our surprise mentioning us and HOPE as examples of the young leaders who were in the room! Prince William and Harry then gave speeches with Prince William saying something I found really inspiring:
I will finish with one small word of advice: all of you here are proven leaders already. You may sometimes hear the phrase ‘future’ leaders instead of ‘young’ leaders. This programme is called The Queen’s Young Leaders for a reason: you are leaders now, not in the future, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
We were then placed in a group for the ‘royal meeting’. Myself and Ellie were in a group with Matt Richardson from the Xtra factor and the extremely inspiring Baroness Floella Benjamin. We were then introduced, one by one, to Prince William. When he came to myself and Ellie I was internally shaking like a leaf. He shook our hands and asked about our work with HOPE. He said he and Catherine were very supportive of anti-trafficking work and we spoke for around 2 minutes about HOPE and human trafficking. During it, though we both definitely blanked afterwards and really struggled to recall anything that had happened, he congratulated us on our work and said he thought it was a hard nut to crack. At the end he said it was lovely to meet us and then moved on while we collapsed into a metaphorical puddle in his wake.
We spent the rest of the event having a go in the social media hub, shamelessly celeb spotting (hello Joanna Lumley, Claudia Winkleman and Joss Stone) and being repeatedly told off by Palace staff for trying to take sneaky photos. Needless to say it was a day both of us will never forget!